Originally created 06/19/02

Georgia bishop backs policy



South Georgia's Catholic leader says the church's new national plan on sexual abuse by priests is mostly about protecting children.

The plan, adopted Friday in Dallas, also honors one of the church's primary functions: reconciliation, Bishop J. Kevin Boland said Monday.

Reactions from Savannah area lay people ranged from hopeful to wary.

One churchgoer called it a remedy that's only as effective as the patients' desire for a cure.

"It's like the first dose of a healthful medicine," said Paul Thigpen, a member of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the editor of a new book of essays on the church's sexual abuse crisis. "The bishops have got to take this medicine they put out and there has to be other therapy as well."

Another Catholic, confident the plan is an overdue-but-sincere attempt to fix the crisis, said he wonders whether bishops will adhere to the policy throughout the years.

"I think they're going to do something, but how much is done, you have to wait and see," said James Woods, a member of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro. "In 1992, you could say they were trying to placate a problem. I think they're serious now. But 10 years ago all of this could have been taken care of."

Bishop Boland was one of 239 American bishops who accepted the charter Friday during a meeting in Dallas. Thirteen voted against the plan.

While in Dallas, Bishop Boland heard victims' stories of being molested by priests and ideas on what to do about it.

"We spent hours of that, how do we take care of priests in this regard?" the bishop said in a news conference at the Catholic pastoral center in Savannah. "As a church, we're a church of forgiveness, reconciliation. We can't dump them on the roadway."

Bishop Boland called the charter strict and said bishops had difficulty with what he called retroactive justice.

"You have a priest who has 60 years as a priest. He's in a convalescent home; has some charge against him 40 years ago and now a bishop is to go and tell that priest, 'you can't wear your collar, you can't appear in public as a priest,"' Bishop Boland said. He did not elaborate on bishops' accountability in the crisis. It may be discussed later, he said.

"It's a completely different issue," he said.